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WPP Merges Hill & Knowlton with BCW

January 26 2024

In an apparent volte face after refreshing and reinforcing the brand of its communications agency Hill & Knowlton as recently as November, WPP has announced the company will be merged with the group's other major PR firm BCW, with the combined entity renamed Burson.

AnnaMaria DeSalvaNovember's rebrand 'marked a return to [the] original name of Hill & Knowlton, reflecting the company's near 100-year equity' according to WPP. AnnaMaria DeSalva, Global Chairman & CEO of H+K pointed out then that 'Hill & Knowlton is a category originator, born in 1927' and noted: 'I've learned through the years how much our company means to countless clients and alumni who have worked with us to shape their stories and successes at various points in their careers'.

In this week's announcement, WPP says Burson will be 'a powerhouse delivering modern communications leadership at scale to clients across the world'. The holding company notes that the Hill & Knowlton brand 'will operate within Burson serving a select group of clients globally through strategic communications, advisory and public affairs services', while GCI Health and AxiCom will also continue as sub-brands, offering specialised healthcare and technology comms expertise, respectively.

H+K has for long placed a high value on research to inform communications: a dozen years ago it launched a new unit called Research+Data Insights, offering both data analytics and primary research; in 2016 it partnered with social media intelligence specialist Brandwatch to launch a real-time dashboard called Sherlock+; and most significantly at the end of October last year announced it formed a global Intelligence + Technology capability, as well as a partnership with Pendulum Intelligence; and the launch of harmful narrative prediction and analytics tool H+K Sonar.

In the new structure current BCW global CEO Corey duBrowa will take the Chief Executive's role while DeSalva (pictured) will serve as Chairman. Burson will be operational from 1st July and its new brand will be unveiled later this year. WPP says the combination 'creates immediate scale in sectors driving today's most consequential innovation and economic growth, including healthcare and technology'. Burson, whose name honours PR and strategic communications pioneer Harold Burson, will have more than 6,000 employees in 43 markets worldwide.

DeSalva says the merger is 'highly synergistic', will 'accelerate the firms' transformation' and will 'enable the investments in talent and technology that advance communications leadership when it has never mattered more'. Appointments to the leadership team will be announced throughout 2024 as the integration progresses.

WPP Chief Mark Read comments: 'Hill & Knowlton and BCW are two high-performing businesses with complementary strengths, shared ambitions and many shared clients. I am delighted to see the Burson brand brought back to unite them. The new agency will be the standard bearer as the most modern, strategic, technology-driven, full-service communications offer in the industry'.

Web sites: www.bcw-global.com , www.hillandknowlton.com and www.wpp.com .

All articles 2006-23 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas, 2024- by Nick Thomas, unless otherwise stated.

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